Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Evolution of My Writing Workshop

I intended to blog about my philosophy of grading re Prof Hacker but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Isn't grading painful enough without thinking about it when I don't have to do so? Then another Prof Hacker post about grading (grading contracts that is) made me think again about how I manage grading. My philosophy of teaching is focused on fostering the growth of the writer and so I really do not like to dwell on the product of writing as I see it as a means to an end (the growth and development of the writer) rather than the end in itself. However, the workshop process that has evolved in my classroom is something that I could write about – and in fact have been asked to write about – and so here it is.

I have always set up my writing classes around some version of a writing workshop. For me, a writing workshop classroom means focusing on the writer and the writing rather than the teacher and the lecture. I believe writers learn and grow when they are actively engaged in writing and participate in a feedback loop that supports revision and fosters self-regulation. I believe the timely administration of a mini-lesson is far more effective than a lecture. But this post is about grading or feedback – not teaching. And so, back to my writing workshop. What does it look like? My writing workshop incorporates drafting and revision as well as a feedback loop. It uses reflection and self-regulation as well as working toward a final portfolio or some other final project.

These elements have remained constant but not static as they have evolved over the course of a decade of teaching writing. Back when I taught modes my students wrote five rough drafts and then after receiving feedback revised four essays and then after more feedback completed three final drafts for a portfolio. Today my students collaborate on a number of small projects before drafting papers that go through workshop before submission for a final grade and more feedback then they use those pieces as part of a larger final project (a blog).

My feedback process has also evolved over time. During my first years of teaching I graded even rough drafts but as I was teaching as many as five sections of writing (with a total of 125 students) at a time that was an incredible burden. Plus, I found that it actually interfered with the revision process as some students would take the attitude that the paper was “good enough” and did not always realize that the grade assigned to a rough draft did not translate into the same grade for a final draft. Around the same time I began teaching writing online and so I moved my workshop into a discussion board. Students posted their drafts in the discussion board and received feedback from me as well as their peers. I really loved this model as it allowed me to focus on helping students improve their writing – and not on grading. I also discovered that the transparency of sharing writing and feedback in this way fostered conversations with and among students about writing that would not have occurred under my old workshop model. I also learned that making the entire workshop process visible in this way made these conversations a resource for all students. I became so enamored of the online writing workshop that I began to use it even with my face-to-face classes.

Then I initiated a collaborative grading research project with two of my colleagues that involved the use of rubrics and I soon found that my blissful workshop model could not seamlessly integrate the use of rubrics. It took a semester to work out how to use rubrics in a way that still offered substantive feedback that supported revision. After the research project was over I asked my students about continuing the use of rubrics (secretly hoping I could abandon them) but students overwhelming responded that they liked the rubrics and found them useful when drafting as well as revising. And so rubrics continue to play an important role in my writing workshop as well as of course my grading.

I have always believed that reflection plays an important part in the growth and development of a writer and that belief has been reinforced by my experience as a teacher, a writer, and a researcher. In fact, my most recent research project reinforced this to an extent that surprised me. At various points during my teaching career I have used writing journals as well as portfolio reflections. I have required that students write a “grade note” when submitted papers that explains how their work meets or exceeds the criteria for a particular grade. My current writing workshop asks students to reflect on their process for each writing assignment and then to metawrite at the end of the semester about their growth and development as a writer. In addition, my students are required to Tweet thoughts about writing which may or may not be further developed in their writing reflections and metawriting.

I hope my writing workshop helps my students grow and develop as writers but my research on that is still pending. You know that pesky dissertation has taken a lot of my time.

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